While her diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa was made at age four, Leah has lived with the effects of the condition from the moment she was born.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a condition that results in a decrease of vision, specifically peripheral vision and it can also result in reduced effectivity for seeing at night.
Leah has only limited central vision and no peripheral vision, which means navigation is something that requires extra concentration to get right.
As a university teacher and PhD student, this is particularly hazardous when Leah has to navigate her busy campus.
“If I knew I’d have to change classes at certain peak times, I’d avoid certain areas with more foot traffic whenever I could,” she said.
That lack of confidence is now becoming a thing of the past after Leah was matched with Seeing Eye Dog Harlow a year ago.
Leah was initially shocked that she was even eligible for a Seeing Eye Dog.
“Until I began to thoroughly look into it, I thought I didn’t have enough sight loss to be eligible to apply for a Seeing Eye Dog. When I found out I was eligible, I was also surprised by how much there was to learn in terms of being able to control one.”
While Leah was on the waiting list for a little longer than she had anticipated, she considers Harlow so perfectly matched to her own needs that she didn’t mind.
“I was amazed with how well the matching was done. Everything I said about my situation was taken into account; the fact that I take public transport, I move a lot between urban and regional areas, because of my work I interact with a large number of people every day.
“When I finally met Harlow I thought it was amazing how much they had listened and how well matched we were.”
Although it was a perfect match, there was still a lot of hard work and effort by Leah that enabled the two to work together so well.
“Learning all the different commands, learning to translate what I’m thinking into gestures, and learning how much you need to teach the dog, how much control you exert when they’re guiding you. It took about six months or so and then it became second nature.”
Ultimately, Harlow has enabled Leah to become more confident than ever and she now takes everything in her stride, even the aspects which used to hold her back.
“I’m a lot less stressed about going to new places or places on my own, I can go out at night more now. I know if I’m going somewhere unfamiliar I won’t fall down stairs or stumble onto a road. Harlow has given me the confidence to go everywhere on my own.”